Author to Author ll – Dr. Ronald A. Williams on Oh Gad!

Dr. Ronald A Williams is a Barbados born, US based writer. He has a Ph.D. in English. I’ve met him only virtually, as we are both on the mailing list of an ongoing literary conversation among Caribbean writers. He read and sent me this note re my book Oh Gad! – reprinted here with his permission.

The letter:

Hi Joanne,

Just finished (Oh Gad!) – very satisfying read. I was particularly impressed with the twin sensibilities of the book, that is, the American and Antiguan sensibilities. That was handled well. The shift from the quasi cool of the American sensibility to the repressed tension of the Caribbean serves to create the persona of the hybrid characterization of the novel. There is great authenticity in the creation of the Nikki character, particularly in her American sensibility which is illuminating and engaging. The language and the psychological construction of the character seems to me quite real. Her situations in the States have the reality of the extant gender and racial complications. What I particularly like about Nikki (and the narrator) is her uncertainty about the conclusions she reaches. Frequently, she will say, this is the situation, or maybe not. That is very refreshing in a world that is often quite dogmatic, particularly with respect to gender relations. Nikki is a sensibly created character not because she’s herself sensible, but because the writer allows for her complexity to come through. I certainly don’t trust her choices, but I accept them and wish her well precisely because she’s charmingly constructed. Her relationships are complicated but only because she makes them so. There is an American suspicion that she evinces which then creates problems for her. Though loving, she does bring a monumental chip to her relationships, but she’s not self-righteous, and so we are willing to forgive her. Audrey, of course, is the gem of the novel. beaten down but not beaten by life , she is the mother without the motherliness. I loved her and found her bitter realism quite attractive.

However, a couple of things didn’t quite sit well. I found the ease with which Nikki found jobs a little hard to take, as I did her expertise for which I was not at all prepared. The Night at the cave has the feeling of a set piece with ancestor worship and the invocation of the slave thrown in. It reminded me of Ma’s dream in Lamming’s Castle or Paule Marshall’s walk on the beach in The Timeless People. The centering of the elder in modern Caribbean society also strikes me as a little problematic, except as a romantic hope since elders have receded as a moral force. I never became comfortable with Aeden and I can’t quite see that relationship working, but worse, he has no independent validation as a creation. He is created for the reader entirely through Nikki’s imagination and therefore he seems shallow and unrealized. The carnival, another set piece, seems almost an afterthought.

These things, however, (are) minor details. The overall effect of the novel is pleasing and I loved the writing. I particularly like the fact that you have moved away, albeit cautiously, from the tyranny of the socio-historical approach and do invoke a more popular and accessible story. Wish you well.

For more Oh Gad! reviews, go here.

For an open letter from another author, go here.

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